Monday, March 31, 2008

Des McAnuff quote of the day.

From an interview with the Society of London Theatre: “This is a completely insane thing for somebody to be saying the week that they’ve taken over the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, but I’m going to be sad if I’m on my deathbed staring at the ceiling, thinking to myself ‘God, I wish I’d made that other movie.’”

The two movies McAnuff has directed, you'll recall, are Cousin Bette and...

Martin Knelman on Stratford: Banana Republic.

No, not the fashion label worn by its patrons... the leadership. Knelman always knew it was never gonna work: "To some of us, the only really surprising element of the news earlier this month about the acrimonious termination of the festival's group directorate was that almost everyone involved professed to be surprised that it didn't work."

Well, it would have been nice if Oracle Knelman had let us know this was going to happen before, you know, it actually happened. The last time he wrote about Stratford leadership, it was to use his powers of prognostication to tell us that "[Colm] Feore is not only a contender but a front-runner in the race to succeed Richard Monette."

Anyway, Knelman's piece is quite entertaining and signals that the gloves are off over at the T-Star. Excerpts, bolding mine:

- "Des McAnuff, a man preoccupied with his globally successful musical Jersey Boys, [is left] as the festival's sole artistic director – even though he is clearly not in a position to make Stratford a full-time job."

- "In retrospect, [Maraden and Shipley] could have guessed how things would turn out from the fact that for the first time in Stratford history the so-called artistic directors did not report directly to the board."

- "Clearly, the board is enchanted with Cimolino, who has never worked anywhere except Stratford, and has been rewarded with the longest-running contract in the history of Canadian performing arts."

- "[T]his venerable institution – the largest not-for-profit theatre on the continent – has shown itself to be the banana republic of the cultural world."

- "Now, we are left to stare open-mouthed at the wreckage, wishing for a return of the TV series Slings and Arrows, which brilliantly satirized behind-the-scenes treachery at a high-toned classical theatre mismanaged by neurotics and bumpkins."
Happy Belated World Theatre Day...

I had other things on my mind March 27 thanks to a restaurant dedicated to the malarky that is "raw food" and a dish mislabelled nut-free, so I just read Robert Lepage's WTD message - it's a good one: "The survival of the art of theatre depends on its capacity to reinvent itself by embracing new tools and new languages. For how could the theatre continue to bear witness to the great issues of its epoch and promote understanding between peoples without having, itself, a spirit of openness?"

[Hat tip: Jerry Wasserman.]

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stuff Happened.

"Studio 180, the acclaimed company that brought The Laramie Project and The Arab-Israeli Cookbook to Canada, can add another critical and popular success to its resume. The company’s production of David Hare’s STUFF HAPPENS, directed by Joel Greenberg, has just completed its four-week run at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs, receiving some of the best reviews of the season and playing to 95% of capacity. The final two weeks of performances were sold out far in advance."

This was an excellent production, great cast, great direction.

In a couple of discussions I've had recently about the "problem" with Toronto theatre, I've heard a couple of theatre people complain about the audiences. Here, for example, from the comments of a blog post last week: "Does Toronto have great theatre audiences, honestly? Or are Toronto's audiences and theatres dragging each other down, in a dance of self-absorbed torpor?"

Come on folks, let's not blame the victim. There's an appetite out there for good theatre, which Studio 180's production of Stuff Happens was. If you build it, they will come.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

An omen?

Now this: "For the first time in living memory, Stratford Ontario announces the cancellation of the annual spring release of the Swans scheduled to take place on March 30th at 2:00 pm."

Kate Taylor has a thoughtful piece today on "performing-arts institutions struggling with issues of succession and leadership" - not just Stratford, but CanStage (which I am now apparently supposed to call Canadian Stage) and the Canadian Opera Company. "Stratford will have to see if one very busy McAnuff, who was hired in part because of his success directing on Broadway, can provide sufficient direction, with perhaps a few genuine artistic associates filling in the blanks," she writes. "It's probably a more promising scenario than the one Canadian Stage faces. In a tough climate, and facing stiff local competition, the company must define its theatrical personality with an artistic director playing second fiddle to a producer who has been in place for decades."

On the subject of a possible associate artistic director working under McAnuff at Stratford, the London Free Press reports this today: "McAnuff dismissed as 'malarkey' a suggestion that an associate artistic director was being brought in to ease some of his load."
Ready... aim... Fire!

Three stars from me for Fire in today's Globe and Mail: "It is generally not advisable to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, but we'll make an exception in this case. It's worth standing up and screaming for Ted Dykstra and Rick Roberts's extraordinary performances in this so-so musical about two sons of a preacher who grow up to be a rock 'n' roll star and televangelist."

On the other hand: While my favourite performance was Rick Roberts as the Jimmy Swaggart-inspired Hershel Blackwell, The Sun's John Coulbourn feels he's what scuttles the play (3.5/5 stars). Meanwhile, another of the rotating Ouzounianots gives Fire 3.5/4 stars in the Star and Christopher Hoile gives 3/5 in Eye. In the blogosphere, Torontoist isn't impressed, but this blogger is.

UPDATE: Blogger Alan Adamson's thoughts on Fire - and CanStage in general - are here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Legends of The Fall.

Much as I wanted to like a play that involves both heroin smuggling and the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I could only give The Fall 2/4 stars in today's Globe: "Indeed, in order to fully immerse yourself in The Fall, you have to not only suspend your disbelief, but fire it and getting a restraining order."

On the other hand: One of Ouzounian's generous replacements gives it 3/4 stars, The Sun's John Coulbourn gives it a whopping 4/5 stars, and Eye Weekly's Christopher Hoile metes out a mere 2/5 stars. This one's a divider, not a uniter.

UPDATE: Cushman liked it. Nice to see us not all Fall into line here...

In other news, Alison has tagged me in this Three Things I Learned the Hard Way meme. I guess it's revenge for tagging her the other day. OK, so:

1. It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into. (Jonathan Swift)
2. You can't actually live life on the fence. (That's why I changed the title of the blog to Off the Fence a year ago, much to the confusion of everyone, sorry.)
3. Don't eat the horse tartar. DO NOT EAT THE HORSE TARTAR.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Stratford stage whispers

For those interested, Marti Maraden’s full statement: “I cannot be an Artistic Director in name only.”

And here are The Star’s Richard Ouzounian’s latest thoughts on the situation (from, er, Seoul, Korea):
[L]ooking at things from a distance, it’s not the ways the trio were different that was the problem but the ways some were too similar.

Shipley and Maraden’s formative years were both at Stratford during the 1970s and they grew up being influenced by the people and things that nurtured them then. Even though they were both to enjoy great success elsewhere, once you return home a lot of that gets forgotten in a wave of nostalgia.

Perhaps Cimolino should have realized he hadn’t picked three people different enough to make consensus a viable process, rather than a constant game of two against one.
Well, it’s a theory... not one I subscribe to though.
Bits and bobbies.

- Did I link to Alec Scott's "Flop Culture" article in Toronto Life? Here's the thrust: "The Factory, Tarragon and Passe Muraille once drew buzz, profits, even the police. Today, the work is marginal at best."

Well, Ken Gass, A-D at Factory, has responded in an interview with BlogTo: "Alec Scott (whoever he is, perhaps one of the dispirited, disgruntled people he alludes to with such authority) is so far off the mark, the article is really beneath contempt and beneath comment. In terms of the references to Factory, it is so egregiously erroneous and outrightly false, my first reaction was to launch a libel suit."

That prompted playwright/journo Alison Broverman to respond to Gass on her blog, and me to respond to her in the comments. Conversation!

- Helen Pidd in the Guardian reports on British bobbies moving to "the rather obscure Alberta": "A significant proportion of the new officers patrolling Calgary have British accents - of the 50 extra policemen and women the force was told to recruit last year, 48 came from the UK. When the 58-strong class of 2008 touch down later this year, nearly 10% of Calgary's entire force will be British."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The dispirit of 1968.

Last week, it was David Mamet's essay in the Village Voice: Why I am no longer a 'brain-dead liberal'. Now, in the Times of London, Tom Stoppard writes about the lonely position of being a non-leftist playwright during the 1968 student unrest in England:
In 1968 I was living the good life with my first wife and first baby in our first house on the swell of my first play and was beginning to be noted by my peers as someone who was politically dubious.

It was to be some years before a well known left-wing director, asked to typify a “Royal Court play”, replied that it was a play not written by Tom Stoppard, but I was already conscious of a feeling in myself which detached me from the prevailing spirit of rebellion when bliss was it in that dawn to be alive but to be young was to be where it’s at.

The feeling I refer to was embarrassment. I was embarrassed by the slogans and postures of rebellion in a society which, in London as in Paris, had moved on since Wordsworth was young and which seemed to me to be the least worst system into which one might have been born – the open liberal democracy whose very essence was the toleration of dissent.
Excellent counterpoint to all the '68 nostalgia flooding the press for the 40th anniversary.

Stoppard went on to premiere his play Rock'n'Roll, which is in part about the spirit of 1968 - in Prague, not London - at the Royal Court, as part of its 50th anniversary season. So Bill Gaskill - the left-wing director Stoppard references - was wrong.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Advice for Stratford ADs: How to subtly influence your directors.

From my favourite, Slings and Arrows:



Stratford update

Marti Maraden breaks her silence, speaking exclusively to The Globe and Mail today about her reasons for resigning as co-artistic director of the Stratford Festival - she blames general director Antoni Cimolino for interfering in artistic matters. There has been a lot of focusing on McAnuff over the past couple of weeks, but we shouldn't forget that the idea of having three ADs was Cimolino's idea and he was ultimately responsible for making it work. He is the only one who has unquestionably failed here.

It's interesting to read in Michael Posner's article today that the arrival of a New York Times reporter in Stratford to write a piece on how well the triumvirate was working seems to have precipitated its collapse...

All right now Shipley, tell us your version of events. Methinks Cimolino doth protest too much, ie. in this letter to the Star.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Up and Atom.

The Globe is chock-a-block of theatre coverage today. Simon Houpt has an excellent profile of Des McAnuff, the last man standing at Stratford, and I've got some thoughts on the festival's future to go with it.

Then, on the next page, I get to say something nice about a new play: 3.5 stars out of 4 for Invisible Atom, Anthony Black's super solo show at the fidget-inducing Theatre Passe Muraille backspace.

Meanwhile, in the Post, Robert Cushman watches Last Days of Graceland and makes an assertion: "This has not been a good season for new Canadian drama." I'd have to agree based on what I've seen so far, but what did I miss in January and the first half of February while I was in London? You tell me.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Review round-up: Last Days of Graceland and The Mansfield Project

I have two in the Globe today: The Last Days of Graceland at Theatre Passe Muraille (1.5 stars) and Theatre Smith-Gilmour's The Mansfield Project (2 stars).

On the other hand: Robert Crew gives The Mansfield Project a 2.5/4 in the Star and Coulbourne in the Sun awards 3/5. As for Last Days, The Star's Susan Walker gives 2.5/4 and Coulbourn goes for 1.5/5.

So, not the most auspicious week for new plays in Toronto... (Well, that's not entirely true, but you'll have to wait 'til tomorrow to hear about that.)

In improv comedy news, I stopped by the Catch23 Tournament of Champions last night to watch the Montreal team go up against Edmonton and Chicago, and I think I'll pop in again tonight. I hear these Crumbs characters from Winnipeg are hilarious.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Paul Gross is a fidgety theatregoer.

Theatre Passe Muraille. Backspace. 8pm.

I'm reading the programme. A couple take the seats next to me, begin reading their programmes too. The man fidgets, chews gum.

The play begins. The fidgeting continues. I am like (in my head), "Who is this fidgety guy next to me chewing gum? Wait... is he actually doing calf muscle stretches in the middle of a play now? Stop bangin' into the back of the row of seats like that, dude. Gosh!"

The play ends. This being me, I recognise his wife Martha Burns first. She says something like, "See you at home then." And I think to myself, "What? Who's she going to see at home other than Paul Gross?" Then I realise: "Oh. Paul Gross. He is the fidgety man."

This has been: Things that won't make it into to the review I'm writing.

UPDATE: I suddenly thought, ah, hey, maybe it's not fair to quote someone who was just enjoying a night out at the theatre. I should also note that a) TPM backspace has some of the most uncomfortable seats in town, and b) I am an uptight theatregoer. That is all.
Four-star speech.



Obama hit a "campaign setback" and made setbackaid. This is one for the history books. It not just America that thirsts for this message...

I'm not an internet evangelist or anything, but how wonderful is it that thanks to YouTube we seem to be moving away from the era of soundbytes and back to great oratory?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tartarred and feathered.

Why, oh why, did I eat the horse tartar? There went my weekend.

Here's my review of Stitch, an opera for three women and three sewing machines, and a brief article about The Lord of the Rings musical finally closing on the West End. Producer Kevin Wallace says it's off to try again in Germany and the Far East, but I'll believe it when I see it...

More on the Stratford sitch from the New York Times and a tribute to Anthony Minghella, the playwright and stage director.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Survivor: Stratford, Ontario.

When three become one - Marti Maraden and Don Shipley resign, leaving Des McAnuff the last artistic director standing at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Anyone know what's going on behind the scenes?

(Do feel free to email me.)

UPDATE: OK, yes - Survivor, Spice Girls... I do need to update my pop culture references.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I've got a hunch...

Here is my review of the show Love You Forever... and More Munsch. I received a very, very angry telephone call about it this afternoon, so let me clear the air: Yes, it should have been "taking your child", not "bringing your child". I'm sorry.

In other news, Carey Price is the awesomest. Canadiens all the way!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Odie, us.

Garfield without Garfield. But wait: Garfield with Mitsou replacing Garfield.

God bless the internet.
Go Chewy!

How great is it that Chiwetel Ejiofor pipped Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart for best actor at the Olivier awards? I can't speak for Sir Ian's King Lear - missed it - but I didn't get what all the fuss was about Stewart's MacBeth; admittedly, I did see it from the obstructed view seating in the back row of the Gielgud, but I'm sure the hammy howling wasn't that much better from the stalls.

Chewy's Othello, however, was genius - when Iago first puts the bug in his ear that Desdemona is cheating on him, you could see the jealousy virus physically spreading through his bloodstream... Every doubt, every no-no-it-couldn't-be, every but-could-it-be?, every no-I'm-not-jealous-at-all, every I'M-GOING-TO-KILL-HER was revealed in his face. I have never been so enthralled by a production of this play. In the final scenes, I was literally on the edge of my seat silently pleading with Othello not to kill Desdemona. (Belated spoiler alert.) Then, unexpectedly, I was in tears and they did not stop even during that stupid bit where Desdemona comes back to life for a couple of lines... Baby, you can drive my catharsis!

Ejiofor's was the kind of performance that you just talk and talk and talk about, but become increasingly frustrated that you can't capture properly in words. Totally deserving of this win.

Hey! Here are some of my reviews from The Globe and Mail: A Man of No Importance and, in a two-reviews-in-one review, As You Like It and Death of a Chief. That's 2.5 stars, 3 stars, and 1 star respectively if you're keeping score at home. I apologize for the entirely gratuitous, slightly nonsensical Killers reference... I was in day five of a six-show week. That's daily journalism!

On the other hand: As You Like It gets 2/5 in the Sun and 2/4 in the Star. (Headlines: We Don't Like It and As You Like It not Likeable, respectively.) Meanwhile, DOAC gets 4/5 in the Sun and 2/4 in the Star, and A Man of No Importance gets 3/4 in the Star and 3.5/5 in the Sun. Plus, the luckily starless Cushman on Democracy and, since I mentioned him up higher in this post, Patrick Stewart's Macbeth (now on in NY).

Friday, March 07, 2008

So long, reality!

The Evening Standard critic Nicholas de Jongh wrote a play and this is what he learned: "I understood I had chosen to be a theatre critic because it allowed me to find permanent refuge in an escapist world of performance. By writing my play and watching it rehearsed I have understood in what a long-term flight from reality I have lived."

The reviews of de Jongh's Plague Over England are good, by the way. Which bodes well for my script-in-development, Scourge Above Canada.
Theatre is good.

Yes, things have looked up this week with Rose (3 stars), Democracy (3 stars) and Stuff Happens (3.5 stars) opening. The outdoor rinks are closed, so why no go see one of them this weekend?

MK blogs that you should get down to Buffalo for the touring production of The Drowsy Chaperone. Now the bad news: you shouldn't head down to Buffalo to see anything at the Studio Area - the 43-year-old regional theatre has cancelled the rest of its season and is seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Declining subscriptions, ageing audience... You can bet a lot of the Canadian regionals will be following this sad tale closely.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It's all about meme, meme, meme.

As PW has tagged me, I must now share six non-important things/habits/quirks about myself:

1. I know how to ride a unicycle, though I haven't got up on the wheel in a couple of years. Apparently this ability is not that quirky anymore. I note that bike shops are now filled of these trick unicyles that I occasionally see kids riding up and down picnic tables in the park. My unicycle was once actually ridden by a clown in a circus in Cold War Russia, however, so it's much cooler.

2. Procrastinating at university often took the form of writing letters to the editor of The Globe and Mail. Here is one I particularly wish would vanish from their online search.

3. I have Irish citizenship through my grandmother. "Oh, you're one of those," they often said to me in England.

4. As I walk down the street, I often try to step on an equal number of cracks with my left and right feet. Occasionally, I break it down further, so that I step on the same number of cracks with my toes, ball, arch and heel of each foot. Naturally, I find snow-covered sidewalks much more relaxing to travel along.

5. For the first couple of years of my life, I was apparently known as JK.

6. I have a pretty good collection of Uncle Scrooge comic books (and ties, an homage to Nick Auf Der Maur) and will happily try to convince you that Carl Barks was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.

I hereby tag Alison Broverman.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

British Press Awards...

Congratulations to the Guardian, who are leading Fleet Street with 14 nominations, and especially Helen Pidd, who is up for young journalist of the year!

In other news, I have some thoughts on all the scientific-method acting at this year's Rhubarb festival in today's Globe.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Genocide by side.

Moving across the ocean, starting a new job, apartment hunting and catching a cold really take it out of you, so here are links to a couple of reviews I meant to put up last week: Richard Kalinoski's A Crooked Man (1.5 stars) and Marjorie Chan's a nanking winter (2 stars).

It does not give me pleasure to be so stingy on the stars, so I thought we'd start off the week here praising something I did enjoy last week, but which wasn't for review. I went to a pay-what-you-can staged reading of the Rumoli Brothers' An Inconvenient Musical, a Fringe hit that I missed last summer. It was a great reminder of the tremendous comic talent on offer in Toronto, featuring as it did two of my favourite funnymen anywhere: Paul Bates and Chris Gibbs. After a play about the Armenian genocide and another about the rape of Nanking, I needed a good laugh and said laugh was duly supplied. Looking forward to the remount at Factory later this year...

Hey! Paul Wells has tagged me in one of these meme things... I am to share six non-important things/habits/quirks about myself. Will think about it while I ride my unicycle to sign my new lease.